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Boston (Massachusetts) based songwriter Susan Cattaneo has been earning a living as a songwriter for a long while. She spent some time in Nashville writing modern country and has latterly been a teacher of songwriting at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  In the last few years she has revived her recording and performing career and this new album marks something of a turning point in her life. For the first time, she says, she has written songs with herself in mind as the performer and, in doing so, she has embraced a darker, deeper running current than normally to be found in country chart music. This album has its own sound, not quite like anyone else I can think of, but it certainly owes as much to the noir sounds of alt-country as it does to her commercial country training.

Working with a fine selection of musicians under the guidance of producer Lorne Entress, she cultivates a sophisticated sound that seduces the ear with practised skill; each song draws you into its own particular atmosphere and, although she says she starts with the hook when she’s writing a song, nothing here has the easy flow that many Americana writers seem to achieve. Rather, it’s as if each track is a piece of music with story attached; we’re never knocked out by a big chorus or an easy tune but we are engaged by the collective musical intelligence at work. Every now and then I hear something akin to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s work – the self-confident understatement that makes clear the serious intent of the work.

The lyrics are really strong, full of insightful phrases that bring the ‘ouch’ factor to tales of love gone stale that are a bit of a recurring theme here. Her writing has a broad reach:  Lorelei is a murder ballad of sorts, Revival is a wry take on the old phenomenon of the travelling preacher and John Brown revisits the tale of the abolitionist who was the subject of a Civil War marching song. All the way through, her singing impresses tremendously; she has a warm voice which seems to encompass darker lower register sounds as easily as higher, purer sounds. There is a strength and deliberation in her delivery that ensures she is always on top of the song, no matter how full the band sound swelling behind her. I have a nagging feeling that she could really have done with the one killer track that never quite gets delivered; Worth The Whiskey (a tale of one wounded woman’s defiance) could have been it but somehow it ends up a bit under-powered. Occasionally, too, there is a bit of a mis-match between the arrangement of a song and the real pain to be found in the lyrics but, overall, this is an impressive album and Susan Cattaneo, as writer and singer, is an impressive talent. 

John Davy

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May 2018

1
John Prine
67 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
JJC,MB,SP,RM
2
Levi Parham
58 pts.
It's All Good
Continental Records
CRS,JB,TK
3
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
55 pts.
Texas, etc...
DollyRocker
HDB,CVL,DHO
4
Michael McDermott
54 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
JDO,LK,BK
5
Sam Morrow
48 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
MA,JBO,HB
6
Caleb Caudle
39 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
7
Western Centuries
36 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
MF
8
Carter Sampson
34 pts.
Lucky
Continental Song City
 
9
Charley Crockett
30 pts.
Lonesome as a Shadow
Son of Davy/30 Tigers
 
10
Courtney Marie Andrews
28 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
JV
11
Ed Romanoff
27 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
 
 
Joan Baez
27 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
HD
 
Pharis and Jason Romero
27 pts.
Sweet Old Religion
Lula Records
SZ,LM
14
Gretchen Peters
24 pts.
Dancing With The Beast
Proper Records
KG
 
Old Crow Medicine Show
24 pts.
Volunteer
Columbia Records
GF
 
Will Stewart
24 pts.
County Seat
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
17
Ben Reel
22 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
GC,FC
 
Birds Of Chicago
22 pts.
Love In Wartime
Signature Sounds
 
 
Emily Herring
22 pts.
Gliding
Eight 30 Records
RST,RH
20
Jenny van West
21 pts.
Happiness To Burn
Independent
PJ,FS,JJ
 
Mary Gauthier
21 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
 
22
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
20 pts.
Years
Bloodshot Records
FCE
23
David Starr
19 pts.
South And East
Independent
HM
24
Cold Tone Harvest
18 pts.
After You
Independent
 
25
Grant Peeples
17 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Continental

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